The setting for much of my work was the North Gate in Jayyous, which is situated where the separation barrier, (a fence at this location) cuts through the Palestinian countryside some three to five kilometers east of the Green Line. The land cut off from the village by the fence totals 9,000 dunams, or 72 percent of the total village lands, and includes some of the best farmland in the community. Many village families have holdings in this "paradise" that produces a range of citrus fruits, vegetables and olives. Some farmers have made considerable investment in greenhouses (poly-tunnels) and irrigation to enhance production. The area includes a number of wells, but extraction levels are limited by Israeli regulations. Jayyous is a village of 3,300 people with an economy largely based on agriculture. The village has about 420 unemployed. Since mid-October 2003 the farmers have needed a permit (permission or tasreeh) to get to their land.
While in Jayyous, I was able to witness the daily commute to and from work of the 40 percent of farmers granted permits by the Israelis to cross the barrier to get to their land. This usually amounts to between 35 and 45 people going through the gate. During holidays, this figure could double and would include women and children with picnics going to work, and also to visit their land to instill a sense of their heritage in their children. It was explained to me on a number of occasions that the olive trees are members of the family, so when the 2,500 trees were dug up to build the barrier the farmers took their trees home. I have seen the piles of olive tree trunks outside many houses in the village.

The Understanding Donkey

One of my early experiences in Jayyous was witnessing a soldier's refusal to allow a farmer passage through the gate to access his land. On that morning, the inner gate had been left open and the man's donkey had wandered, unnoticed, towards the main gate. The IDF jeep came over the hill, and the soldiers saw the donkey close to the main gate. On hearing the jeep the farmer called his donkey, which immediately turned with its cart, and came back through the inner gateway.
The soldiers opened the main gate and motioned people to move forward to have their IDs and permits checked. Finally only the man with his donkey cart was left. The soldier started to shut the inner gate. I asked him, "Does he have the right papers?" The soldier said, "I don't speak English," and then added, "He can't control his donkey." I phoned Hamoked, a Jerusalem-based human rights support group, and the farmer talked to them. As he turned to go home, he said sadly, "My donkey understands more than the soldiers."

Apple Cakes

One evening, toward the end of Ramadan, the men returning from the fields had been kept waiting due to repairs being made to the gates. They waited in the growing darkness, lined up on the other side of the fence from where I was standing. They sat on the ground while their donkeys stood silently beside them. Eventually, well over an hour after sunset, the soldiers began checking the men's permits. It was a slow process that evening, with each check taking well over the average 35 seconds. I was offered a ride to the village in one of trucks that carried that day's harvest up the hill. As we entered the village a door opened and a plate of juicy apple cakes was handed through the driver's window. He passed them to me before sharing this ifthar (breakfast) with the other men, saying I had to eat first as I was their guest.

Visiting Israelis

One day, a group of Israeli students arrived with a party from the Peres Center for Peace in time for the midday gate opening. They went to the main gate as soon as the soldiers opened it, and began talking to them. The Palestinians waiting to get through stood patiently at the inner gate, despite this further disruption to their working day. Eventually, in a strange joint action, the soldiers and I asked the Israeli party to leave the area in front of the gate. The soldiers, I suspect, because they were uneasy with having so many people at close quarters, and me because the students were stopping the farmers from getting to work. Abu Azam of the Land Defense Committee in Jayyous told the young visitors, "...most of all we need the fellowship of the Israelis."

No "Permission" for Sheep

On one of my last gate watches, while talking to some unusually friendly soldiers by the open gate, a shepherd approached with a flock of sheep. There had been a problem with sheep in Jayyous over the winter, as there was insufficient food for them. Many of the sheep were underfed and some farmers had spent money they can ill afford on fodder. The shepherd's ID and permit were in order, but he could not take the sheep into the Jayyous land, as they did not have veterinary certificates to comply with Israeli animal health regulations. "This land is now Israeli", the soldier said.

These four examples illustrate the conditions farmers in Jayyous experience on a daily basis. This disruption to their lives takes a toll in terms of wasted energy, lost working time, diminished income, low morale and most of all in terms of personal freedom. They will not easily be detached from their land, their trees and their "stones." This is their heritage. These case studies relate the ethnographic nature of my work in Jayyous, based on participant observation, supported by field notes, photography, the stories of individuals and the keeping of a reflective journal. The validity of information is based on its grounding in experience and in its triangulation of various sources.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was launched in August 2002. Ecumenical accompaniers monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offer protection through non-violent presence, engage in public policy advocacy and stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation. The program is coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC).